Thursday, January 29, 2009

The New Sport 5th Generation BMW 750i - First Drives


We Find The Speed Limiter In The New BMW 7-Series; The World's Most Luxurious Sports Car.

As the autobahn outside Dresden opens up in front of us, I push hard on the accelerator. There's a surge of power and we glide effortlessly toward the wide horizon. I'm enjoying the serenity of the experience - a cushioned ride, an empty road and plenty of power.

We're moving forward at warp speed. The sheer size and speed of the new 7-Series nudges slower traffic to the right well before we're on top of them - you have to love German driving discipline.

While concentrating on the glass-top autobahn, I detect a slight change in the car's demeanor. I glance at the heads-up display projected onto the screen in front of me. The big numbers read 255. I glance down at the black panel speedo and notice the needle is pinned on the stop.

We've maxed-out the 400hp twin-turbo 750i and the speed limiter is holding us at a whisker over 155mph. "155 at 9:30 in the morning. What a wonderful start to the day," my passenger declares. He's right. The gridlock of Los Angeles feels like its 5872 miles away.

The crisp, cool morning air is giving the twin-turbo V8 (first seen in the X6) extra urgency, but we're soon on the brakes and exiting the autobahn. It's only now that this 4564 lb sedan (curb weight of the long wheelbase 750Li is 4640 lb) feels its size. When accelerating hard, it feels smaller, more compact.

As we head into the scenic German countryside, this vanishing trick is repeated. BMW's engineers continue to practice their witchcraft, making you believe in the impossible.

BMW 750I Mk2 Idrive
Finally, Mk2 iDrive makes sense

This time, they've done it with the most advanced chassis ever seen under a BMW. It starts with multi-link double-wishbone front suspension and continues the new "Integral V" aluminum rear suspension. This works in combination with the variable ratio and hydraulic power-assist Active Steering that also controls the Integral Active Steering, which adds speed-sensitive rear-wheel steering. They then added Dynamic Damping Control with four settings for shock absorber firmness, transmission shift characteristics, engine-throttle response and power steering assist (Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus).

In Sport mode, the default settings can be adjusted by the driver. In Sport Plus, the stability and traction controls reduce their intervention, giving you more freedom to enjoy the car. Finally, Active Roll Stabilization reduces body lean in corners.

What this assault of technology means is you find yourself throwing the 7-Series around like it's a smaller 5-Series. The chassis responds predictably and safely, with very little indication of the control systems in play. It really does shrink the size of this 16.7ft long vehicle, making it the most luxurious sports car ever; or the most sporty luxury car, depending on your point of view.

This fifth generation 7er is the most advanced yet and also the best yet. Whether it will continue the sales success of the previous generation remains to be seen, especially since it's launching into an uncertain economic climate. What's more, BMW only plans to bring the 750i/Li to the States, making it susceptible to rising gas prices. However, they did give us the opportunity to drive the 730d. It uses a new version of BMW's 3.0 turbo-diesel and is claimed to be the most efficient in class.

And with BMW USA not ruling out the possibility of bringing this Stateside if conditions prevail, there could be a greener option for US drivers.

Director of design, Adrian van Hooydonk, has worked in California and knows our market well. He started designing the F01 (they ran out of E codes) about four years ago, using 130 designers in Germany, the US and Singapore. The result is a softer 7, with a strong shoulder line running the length of the car. The front bumper has been designed to emphasize the car's width and aid engine cooling. The hood features two wide sculpted lines and the wider grille is almost upright to enhance the car's impact. There are also distinctive chrome gills on either side of the car, reminiscent of those used on the M-cars.

The interior features a curved dash that flows into the doors. There's also a mixture of materials and textures, from matte wood trim to a ceramic gear selector and audio buttons - the first time ceramic has appeared inside a car.

For all its size, the F01 makes extensive use of aluminum, cutting the weight of the 730d by 120 lb compared to its predecessor.

That weight saving might have been more if the car wasn't chockfull of electronics. We talked about the new technology in our news story at www.eurotuner.com when the car was announced, and we finally got a chance to use it. Some of the highlights include the second gen iDrive controller. We saw it last month on the facelifted 3-Series and it's a giant leap forward. Extra buttons on the controller allow you to skip several menus and bookmark buttons mean you can shortcut to frequently used functions.

Looking at some of the other goodies, it has a new 10.2" widescreen with new drop-down menus to make functions more intuitive. There's also a 40GB hard drive that incorporates the nav system to speed up searches. It can also store music from CD, MP3 or USB, so no more iPod cables. And it houses the first in-car owner's manual that can be accessed through help functions.

Safety is very important to BMW and this car comes with a reversing camera with parking assist. Additionally, there are cameras on either side of the front bumper to help you when emerging from an obscured entrance. There's even a night vision system that senses the movement of pedestrians and warns if they are in the vehicle's path.

Then there's adaptive cruise control, blindspot warning and a lane departure warning that vibrates the steering wheel if you leave your lane. You get a black panel instrument cluster, which uses a high-def display to show the four main dials as well as an array for secondary functions. And let's not forget the massaging rear seats; just some of the new functions on the F01. Add in all the previous technology and the 750i is a technical tour de force.

Obviously, most of the equipment mentioned is optional, and will bump up the base price (unannounced as we went to press). Yet the cost reflects the position of the 7-Series at the head of BMW's armada. It bears many of the hallmarks of its smaller brethren - tight handling, efficient motor, sporting bias - yet moves the concept of luxury and technology forward in another giant stride. To quote the immortal Ferris Bueller, "If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."